Cứ cười và vẫy tay (Just Smile and Wave)

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Cứ cười và vẫy tay (Just Smile and Wave) (2017)
Mixed media, with collage using beauty, sport, news, and Asian American magazines, as well as childhood photos.
30 x 60 in.

Back in Vietnam, I never smiled and waved; I nodded and shook hands.

In this work, I examine a greeting gesture that I have adopted and habituated in my interactions with Americans as an immigrant. This gesture is one of my attempts to assimilate with the American identity. It is at once a symbol of how I overcame social anxieties associated with the immigrant experience to participate in society, and an exacerbator of my double consciousness. With each performance, I question my sense of belonging– whether I am being myself, or just performing the gesture to hide my foreignness, look welcoming, and fit in; I become self-conscious about the authenticity of my identity, and anxiously wonder if people believe my performance.

Using magazine and photo collage, I reveal and confront the causes of why immigrants’, struggle to feel whole, which range from racial discrimination, to internalized racism produced by the white gaze, to the desire to belong, to the fear of losing our roots.

The work is part of my in progress portrait series called “Greeting Performances,” in which I collaborate with immigrants to examine adopted social languages.

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I, and many immigrants I know, are stoic about the struggles we face internally and externally within the American landscape. We either chose not to talk about, or are forced to stay silent about, how out of place we feel in America. We stay silent because America made fun of our accent and body. We stay silent because we were told to fit in instead of speak out.We stay silent so to not “hurt” the feelings of mainstream America.  We stay silent because we were told that we should be thankful to be here– that this is the price we paid to be here.

In this work, I confront and speak out about the feelings I’ve held in and hidden behind my stoic demeanor (in the form of a gesture). I use painting and collage as a comfortable and visually attractive vehicle to present my thoughts. I reveal the forces that makes me feel uncomfortable in my own skin.

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